Remember that transparency award President Obama was supposed to receive March 16th? Yes, the one that praised his commitment to an "open and transparent government."
The event was initially billed by the White House as open to a limited press pool, but was postponed "due to changes to the President's schedule.”
Well, turns out the award was presented to the president on Monday – and, ironically, the press wasn't invited (only a White House videographer and photographer were present). The event didn't even make it on the president's public schedule.
Fortunately, three of the transparency advocates who presented Obama with the award have posted their accounts of the Oval Office meeting online.
The verdict? You be the judge.
OMB's Gary Bass:
Yesterday, I had a once-in-a-career opportunity – to discuss transparency in the Oval Office with the President of the United States. In the 28 years that I've advocated for open government at OMB Watch, this is the first time I've heard of such a meeting....At the midpoint of President Obama's term, we can say that his commitment to open government is truly extraordinary. That's not to say we're happy with every action taken under the Obama administration; we're not. We've got a long way to go to reach the point where government is consistently delivering the openness that the American people deserve....But all in all, this administration has changed the debate about government openness. The question is no longer whether to be open, but how. Although we've seen that commitment for the past two years, it was great to hear President Obama reiterate it face-to-face – and for him to tell us that he still wants to do more to be the most open and transparent president ever. We'll need that resolve as we move forward to further address critical transparency issues such as modernizing FOIA, narrowing state secrets claims, and ensuring fair treatment of those who expose wrongdoing. After our meeting with the president, we met with top White House staff to discuss those and other issues, and we're hopeful that more progress will be made....I left the meeting energized. With your support, we'll continue to work with the administration – through criticism as well as cooperation – to ensure its commitment to transparency is fully realized.
Project on Government Oversight's Danielle Brian:
Yesterday, President Obama opened the door to the Oval Office and ushered us in with a joke about how he hoped we were all going to be listed in the White House visitor logs, which are open to the public....I had expected a more formal "ceremony" with our having to scramble to ensure time to highlight where we thought there were the major issues that needed more significant change. Instead, the entire meeting was informal and the President was clearly engaged. He began the discussion by thanking us for recognizing his commitment, as well as acknowledging we are probably also there to let him know we aren't satisfied with the pace and scope of change. He reaffirmed what he has said since his first minutes in office: that he believes open government strengthens our democracy...The meeting, which had been scheduled for 10 minutes, lasted a little over 20. Rather than it being a photo op, it was everything we hoped: We returned POTUS attention to the need to do more to open the government, while giving him appropriate accolades for his having put the issues on the table in the first place.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press' Lucy Dalglish:
The Oval Office meeting — during which the president was given an award for his work thus far in encouraging agencies to release information to the public — was the first time that longtime open government advocates in Washington recalled a sitting president meeting with them to discuss government transparency. During the meeting, President Obama reiterated the administration’s commitment to encouraging federal agencies to improve their response rates to Freedom of Information Act requests and to more proactively post government records and databases online. The president also reaffirmed support for a qualified federal shield law protecting reporters’ confidential sources. President Obama also said that the administration would continue to support federal legislation to protect from retaliation whistleblowers who report government fraud and other illegal activity, but he noted that it is his duty as president to limit those protections in the cases of government employees who release information that is damaging to national security. "We made clear to the president that while his efforts have been very important, much remains to be done," Dalglish said. "Not only is it important for the president and agency heads to commit to open government, but the message must also make its way down to those in the agencies who actually release the information. Those of us at the meeting committed to working with the White House to ensure that this continues. "It's easy to lob criticism at the White House for the manner and speed with which transparency reforms are taking hold," Dalglish added. "Nevertheless, the fact remains that no other modern president has agreed to sit with us in the Oval Office for a conversation about transparency, and it would have been foolish to reject the opportunity.”